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What The Narmada Bachao Andolan Can Teach Us About India’s Current Development Model

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Land Acquisition In India

India’s developmental model is based on the Nehruvian socialist model of development. But the current scenario of displacements of humans due to developmental agendas raises questions about the structure of the model and its implementation.

Jawaharlal Nehru had once said, “If you are to suffer, you should suffer in the interest of the country.” For a very long period of time, India has looked at infrastructural development at par with economic growth – which has led to some sections of society benefitting at the expense of the woes of the other sections.

Various establishments at the Centre have invested in the construction of dams, railways, roads and multi-purpose river valley projects. The purposes of these projects have been wide-ranging – from beautification, recreational purposes to harnessing resources for optimisation and meeting the increasing demand of the human populace.
But these developmental projects have come at the cost of exploiting nature and displacing the people who live in the regions.

Amongst the ousted population, tribal groups and Dalits are very badly affected. They pay a heavy price for the resource-rich regions they inhabit, and are pushed out of their lands without proper rehabilitation.

The Annual Report (2015-2016) by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs states that 85 lakh people were displaced due to ‘mega projects’ like dams, mines and industries.

Till 1990, tribal people constituted 55% of the total displaced population in India, even though they comprised only 8% of India’s total population. These displacements comment upon the failure of tribal welfare laws such as the Forest Rights Act, 2006. Even the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution has failed to protect the indigenous tribal communities of India.

The number of people displaced due to development is considered to be the largest in the category of internally displaced people (IDPs). The states are majorly responsible for these displacements. State run projects are responsible for displacing a majority of India’s displaced populace, whereas the private sector plays a comparatively miniscule role in this.

Narmada Bachao Andolan

One of the longest struggles against development-aided displacement is the famous ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA)’.

The state governments of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, along with the central government, decided to invest in a multi-purpose river valley project along the Narmada river. The dam in question was the Sardar Sarovar Dam.

According to an estimate, 42,000 people were rendered houseless due to the construction of Sardar Sarovar Dam, but non-governmental organisations (NGOs) associated with the NBA claim that 85,000 families or 5, 00,000 people were affected.

The movement started in the year 1985, when the government had planned to build 30 large, 135 medium and 3,000 small dams to harness the water of Narmada and its tributaries. The project promised to create employment opportunities for the people, irrigate agricultural land, provide drinking water and generate huge revenues for the government. But it neglected the effect it would have on the lives of thousands living near the project sites.

People were displaced due to the construction of the dam and these displacements led to loss of livelihoods, social disintegration, psychological struggles, homelessness and led to pauperism.

Development-induced displacements are a gross violation of human rights, including the right to live with dignity. In this case, the people who were being displaced were neither given proper rehabilitation nor compensation for what they had lost.

The construction of this ambitious river valley project started in 1999 and ended in 2006. It was claimed by Narmada Bachao Andolan that no information had been provided to the affected people. Besides, the rehabilitation offer allegedly had limited information about the terms of rehabilitation, itself.

The stress related to eviction, finding a new livelihood and the partial information given about displacement magnified the harm caused to the people.

People started opposing the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam, when they realised the extent of damage that would be done due to the construction of the dam. The economic feasibility of this river-valley project, as calculated by the Bradford Morse Committee, was 17% lower than the project-design flow, which was indicative of the fact that the stated benefits of the project were false and could not be achieved.

People protest against raising the height of the Sardar Sarovar dam in 2014 (Photo by Khyati Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Projects like these provide unsubstantiated benefits to a few and ignore the plight of the others. In almost all of these cases, the voiceless people are suppressed and made to suffer in the name of progress of the country.

The Road Ahead

Following the struggles of such people, the government of India drafted a National Rehabilitation Policy in 2004 for the first time, which was amended in 2007. In 2013, changes were made to the colonial Land Acquisition Act, 1894, and the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR), 2013, was enacted, instead.

Despite the National Rehabilitation Policy and an Act which encompasses acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement, little is being done to provide basic amenities, compensation and rehabilitation to the people who are dragged out of their homes.

The trouble lies primarily at the grass-root level, where the land acquisition officer undervalues the compensation amount. Second, there is the role of the court. If such a matter is taken to the court, then the judgement is issued years after the acquisition has been done. It is not just the trauma of being displaced – it is also the coerced eviction that leaves a scar.

The Narmada valley project is one such example. There are various other projects which have led to the eviction of people from their shelters, without provision for alternate living and housing. These developmental projects might elevate the infrastructure of the country, but they have also pushed a substantial population aside.

As it is, the voices of these people aren’t heard and are constantly ignored. In such a scenario, it becomes extremely important that these people are not just given a fair compensation and rehabilitation, but also an opportunity to bargain in matters concerning the land deal.


Image Source :  Sumeet Inder Singh/The India Today Group via Getty Images
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